Hardcore Casual asks:
The key balance issue is how to reward those with lots of time, while still keeping those with less time competitive enough to keep pace.How indeed? The thought that occurred to me was "shift the goal posts". If the time you put into the game last month didn't really count as far as this month goes, and the top rewards require actual skill and not blind repetition, then maybe. Those with less time available, if they are skilled, could outpace those that spend a lot more time with less skill.
How could the goal posts be shifted? I'm no fan of game resets. Instead, consider faction reputation grinds: with each major release those that invested huge amounts of time grinding to exalted in previous factions gain no direct advantage in the new release - they too must start from neutral. Consider a world where the important faction to grind for shifted around more often, and furthermore consider a world where gaining reputation with one faction results in losing reputation with another faction. Those that invest a lot more time would be spinning their wheels more often, while a casual player could come in fresh, grind just the faction of the day, and be competitive.
Now, most rewards for faction reputation comes in the form of gear and recipes. This means what you've gained in the past stays with you as you move on to another faction, and even if you lose reputation with that faction you still have those rewards. That would need to change.
This could be changed in two ways: First, the gear rewards could be sensitive to changes in faction reputation. Second: there could be non-gear rewards, like services.
Perhaps there's something inimical to the soul binding that reacts to you no longer being exalted with a faction, and thus the armor burns when you put it on? Perhaps faction specific gear can only be repaired by faction specific vendors?
Other services currently include common vendors as well as reputation reward vendors (those selling head and shoulder enchantments particularly), stable masters, profession trainers, and class trainers. What other services could there be made available in game, contingent on sufficient faction reputation? Yet more special purpose vendors of course, the likes of dance trainers and barbers and tattoo parlors. Anything else might require a deeper change to the game: hiring bodyguards for example, or land grants for guild housing, mining outposts, and tree farms.
Of course, anyone that has lots of time available will still be at the front of the pack whenever there's a sea change in faction rewards .. the point here though is that the time they invested months ago is no longer relevant in the equation.